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HIP SET by Michael Fertik: Book Review

Oscar Orleans is not your typical Israeli name, but then Oscar Orleans is not your typical Israeli.  Born in the Congo, he arrived in Israel after escaping from his war-torn native country, converted to Judaism, and is now in the process of becoming a citizen.  He’s not the only Black Israeli, but he is the only one on the Tel Aviv police force, and he acts as a liaison to the city’s African community.

Early on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, Oscar is called by Inspector Kobi Sabinsky to the Dolphinarium, a building with a tragic past.  In 2001, the vibrant discotheque was blown up by a Hamas terrorist, killing 22 people, including the terrorist himself.  The innocent victims, mostly Jewish teenagers recently arrived from the Soviet Union, were torn apart by explosives and ball-bearings.   Since then the Dolphinarium has remained virtually empty, its horrific past dissuading any group from rebuilding.  But now an African corpse is lying there, continuing the venue’s history as a place of violent death.

Oscar immediately identifies the corpse as a member of the Toposas, a tribe from South Sudan.  His body had been scarified in the traditional manner of the Toposa people, with rows of wounds, now healed, on his belly and chest, a tradition for boys around the age of twelve or thirteen.

What, Oscar wonders aloud, is this young man’s story?  He explains to Sabinsky that the Toposas are a rural people, raising cattle, fighting other tribes, honoring their animistic traditions and refusing conversion to either Christianity or Islam.  They don’t have a formal education or jobs outside of the tribe.   So how did he get from South Sudan and why is he here?

Seeking answers, Oscar and Kobi visit Michael Alou Kuur Kuur, a member of South Sudan’s Dinka tribe, who has been living in Tel Aviv for fifteen years.  He had proclaimed himself a pastor and was the leader of the Sudanese population in the city, helping his people find jobs and keeping the peace among them.

Michael tells Oscar and Kobi that he had met the young man shortly after his arrival in the city.  The youth had  called himself Kinga, a respected name in his home country; perhaps he has been related to the famous Sudanese chief Kinga Longokowo, but, the pastor says, perhaps not.  His scarring, which according to tradition would have extended past his shoulders down his arms, did not extend that far, making the pastor think that he came from an aristocratic family who possibly foresaw a future for him outside of his tribe and even outside his country.

Oscar and Kobi then go the city’s morgue where an autopsy has been conducted.  The chief pathologist informs them that the dead man’s mouth showed amateur surgery on one of his teeth, and when she probed the tooth she found a gold nugget inside.  Sabinsky thinks this shows that the man had been a smuggler, but Oscar is not so sure.  Perhaps, he thinks, the gold was there for another reason.

Hip Set gives readers a look into the city through the eyes of an outsider, and that is what Oscar remains, even after two decades in Israel.  The fascinating hero and the exciting plot will carry you along until the last page.

You can read more about Michael Fertik at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.